Doing too much early on, he found himself with nowhere to go at a critical stage, but was able to work free and ultimately left no doubt that he can still match his billing. That was the story of Wingwalker's success here yesterday – and, as it happens, it is a pretty exact precis of his rider's career as well.
Tom Queally first flashed across the firmament as a mere adolescent. Champion apprentice in Ireland at 15, he was still raw when coming over to join David Loder in 2004. Only now is the innate style being matched by substance: last year, despite a couple of long bans, Queally rode 88 winners and Wingwalker has helped to take him to 78 already in 2008. And, lest we forget, he is still only 23.
"Slowly but surely, we're getting there," Queally said. "I'm getting to ride for most of the important trainers, and whereas in the past I've been concentrating on quantity, now the quality seems to be coming as well. You'd like to think I can crack 100 this time. But it's not the be-all and end-all. So long as you're riding well, and seen to be riding well, that's the important thing." Like his jockey, Wingwalker has excited great expectations from the moment he first embraced his calling. Trained by Henry Cecil for Khaled Abdulla, the Dansili colt's work immediately suggested that he might consolidate the revival of Warren Place as a Classic stable – and he duly made an impressive debut at Newmarket last month, with several subsequent winners behind. Again heavily backed for a conditions race yesterday, he needed restraining early, and that left him trapped against the rail halfway down the straight. Once Queally angled clear, however, he was able to run down the leaders under a confident, hands-and-heels ride, and won going away.
"I had to get him cover, I couldn't have him going with the choke out," Queally explained. "A horse is entitled to be a little apprehensive on only the second run of his life, but when he steps up in class, the stronger pace will suit him better."
That will happen sooner rather than later. The sponsors make him 16-1 for the Stan James 2,000 Guineas and Teddy Grimthorpe, Abdulla's racing manager, suggested that Wingwalker could end his juvenile campaign in the Darley Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket next month. "The good thing about today is that he will have learnt a lot," Grimthorpe observed. "He was a bit fresh early, and the pace wasn't fast. But once he got out, he changed gears and that was encouraging to see."
Though Queally, who also won the last race yesterday on 20-1 chance Gallego, is understudy to Ted Durcan at Warren Place, he has now ridden Wingwalker in both his starts. Whatever happens next, however, he already feels greatly indebted to Cecil. "He's been giving me some nice opportunities and if you have his confidence, it shows in your riding," he said. "He's very easy-going, straightforward and realistic. He knows his horses inside out and has a plan for them all." But his greatest mentor remains Barney Curley, the trainer and gambler who has taken a benign interest in his career ever since his arrival in Newmarket. "He has been a big influence, always kept an eye on me and kept me on the straight and narrow," he said. "He will always keep your feet on the ground, but he'll tell you where you're going right as well."
Curley's contacts in Germany have meanwhile opened other doors for Queally. "It's been a very good experience, getting Group rides over there," he said. "It's all about getting experience." And that, of course, was the one thing he was missing – first when he emerged in Ireland, and again when he came to Britain. "You appreciate it more when things come good again," he admitted. "Certainly when I first started in Ireland I was just freewheeling away. But if I'd started when I was 17 or 18, I'd probably have been too heavy: I wouldn't have been watching my weight from an early age, the way I was. Yes, I was flying when I was 15, and then stopped. But if I'd kept going, and my claim had gone before I came over here, then probably nobody would ever have heard of me again. Everything happens for a reason. What's meant for you won't pass you by."
l Ponmeoath, trained by Eric McNamara and ridden by Paddy Flood, won the Guinness Kerry National at Listowel yesterday for the second year in a row.
Nap: Packers Hill
NB: Liberty Trail
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